Feature Friday: Tennessee’s McLeod Jumps Into Prominence

To the casual observer, seeing Carey McLeod’s name atop the seasonal collegiate and world lists in the long jump this week might have come as a shock.

But to McLeod and his coach Travis Geopfert, the performance that the former Jamaican U20 national champion turned in this past weekend at the Clemson Tiger Paw Invitational was more of a confirmation of the hard work he had put in since transferring from NCAA Division II Emporia State to NCAA Division I Tennessee in the summer.

“We, as coaches, had been talking before the meet and all agreed that Carey was about to do something big,” said Geopfert, who is in his second year with the Volunteers. “He has just been so consistent in practice and always doing what he’s asked to do – especially in the weight room – that it was going to happen sooner, rather than later.”

Well, McLeod’s moment came exactly one week ago today.

It took McLeod one attempt to put it all together, a second attempt to seize the collegiate and world lead at 8.16m (26-9¼) and a third attempt to know even more was on the horizon.

“After I fouled on the first one, I knew I was going to jump well, because it felt really good – but I didn’t know exactly how good it was going to be,” McLeod said. “I’m not a guy who is married to numbers and I don’t like putting certain numbers on myself, so I didn’t think too much about it at the time. Then, actually, that third one boosted me up way more, because it was even bigger and I just missed the board on it.”

He wasn’t done by any stretch of the imagination, even though he passed on all three of his attempts in the final and still won by more than eight inches over former NCAA DII rival Isaac Grimes, who competed at Chadron State and transferred to Florida State this past summer.

McLeod returned to the runway the following afternoon for the triple jump and when you combine his mark in the long jump with his third-place effort of 16.68m (54-8¾) in the triple – which also doubles as the second best mark at the collegiate level this season – you get 24.84m (81-6), which is the best two-day performance at the collegiate level in the past five years. Only 2015 The Bowerman winner Marquis Dendy went farther with his total of 26.65m (86-2) at the NCAA Championships that same year.

Here’s the kicker: McLeod only took one attempt on Saturday.

“Carey is an incredibly competitive guy and definitely wanted to be out there, but knows the bigger picture and what we want to accomplish,” said Geopfert, who has coached 11 NCAA individual champions and assisted with the development of 2016 The Bowerman winner Jarrion Lawson. “The discussion with him probably lasted all of two seconds, but that’s what separates the good from the great – keeping the big picture in mind, no matter what.”

McLeod credits his faith for helping him stay the course despite any obstacle put in his way, be it a circuitous route from Kingston to Knoxville or even coming back from a fractured heel on his jumping leg that he suffered in his first meet at Emporia State last year.

Now completely healthy, McLeod is finally opening eyes and tapping into the potential that allowed him to hit 7.79m (25-6¾) as an 18-year-old at the GC Foster Classic in 2017 and sweep the horizontal jump titles at the famed ISSA Grace Kennedy Boys Championships – also known as “Champs” – that same year.

And who knows, maybe McLeod could become the first male Tennessee horizontal jumper to win an SEC indoor title since 1995 (Darius Pemberton in the long jump) or be the first male Tennessee horizontal jumper to ever win an NCAA title, indoors or outdoors.

“I like to create history and prove people wrong,” McLeod said. “I want to show people that it doesn’t matter where you go in life, because if you work hard, you’ll really get what you want. No one is going to see everything that you see, so you just have to trust the process and know that big things are coming for you if you put in the work for it.”

So Much Room For Activities

Carey McLeod is roommates with teammate Darryl Sullivan.

You might know Sullivan as the collegiate leader and co-world leader in the high jump at 2.33m (7-7¾). That is a mark that Sullivan recorded in mid-January at the Virginia Tech Invitational to match the fourth best performer in collegiate history.

“It’s pretty cool, but we don’t think about it too much,” McLeod said of their high-powered pairing. “We’re both really competitive and know that we want a lot more for ourselves.”

Don’t (Long) Jump To Conclusions

Carey McLeod is honest about his preference.

“I used to hate the long jump,” McLeod said. “I still prefer the triple jump, but I’ve always been pretty good at the long jump and see how much I’ve been improving, so I definitely want to stick with it.”

His coach Travis Geopfert said they’re “just kicking the tires” with the triple jump this season to give McLeod new stimulus. It’s safe to say it’s working: McLeod opened the season at 14.17m (46-6), improved that to 15.89m (52-1¾) and then bounded 16.68m (54-8¾) for the NCAA #2 this past weekend.

“Carey is so strong for his size,” Geopfert said. “His explosiveness really shows in the weight room. He’s made some serious gains in there, especially in his power clean. I always say the long jump is more about speed, while the triple is more about power. Carey definitely has both, which makes him so versatile.”